SCOTLAND’S leading politicians have paid fond tributes to Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald, hailing her as “irreplaceable” and the finest parliamentarian Holyrood has known.
Ms MacDonald, an MSP from the start of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, died on April 4, aged 70, after battling ill health for some time.
A public celebration of her life will take place at the Assembly Hall on The Mound – the first home of the new parliament – on Friday. MSPs took the opportunity yesterday, during their first meeting since the Easter recess, to pay formal tributes to perhaps the most popular of their number.
Presiding officer Tricia Marwick said: “Margo was never just a politician. Margo transcended politics and political parties. She made the complex simple and spoke a language everybody understood. People loved Margo and admired her.”
First Minister Alex Salmond said Ms MacDonald had achieved a rare combination in politics: “She managed to be influential, and also widely loved.”
He said in her three months as an MP after winning the 1973 Govan by-election she arguably had more influence on politics than some MPs who had sat in Westminster for 30 years. “And over the last 15 years she has been the finest parliamentarian this chamber has seen,” he added.
“As an MSP, she pursued a wide range of causes. She was one of the first to call for an inquiry into the cost of this parliament building; she spoke up for the health and wellbeing of Edinburgh’s sex workers; in recent years she has been a staunch advocate of the right of the terminally-ill to choose the manner of their death.
“And even more important than the causes she fought for, was the way in which she fought for them. She combined unyielding integrity with immense personal warmth. She always put people before party or ideology.”
Mr Salmond said there was something fitting about the fact Holyrood rules mean her seat will be vacant until the 2016 election. He added: “She is, quite literally, irreplaceable.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the fact Ms MacDonald had been elected three times as an Independent showed how she reached beyond party politics and became almost a political institution in her own right. “She was a woman of strong convictions robustly expressed, a serious politician,” she said.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she had taken up difficult, morally complex issues. She added: “Gutsy and gallus, forthright and determined, she also had a warmth and humour. Happy to take her colleagues to task when she disagreed, but happy, too, to throw an arm around you or give some advice.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who is taking on Ms MacDonald’s assisted suicide Bill, said it had been a privilege to work closely with her in the informal grouping of Greens and Independents.
He said: “Margo was always the source of guidance, experience, and very often some juicy background gossip.”